The Sweet Relief of Missing Children

15 of 16
The Sweet Relief of Missing Children
363 pages; W. W. Norton & Company
"She was a pretty girl, raised in a religion of immaculate self-protection," Sarah Braunstein writes in the opening pages of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children (Norton). Of course, 12-year-old Leonora isn't truly safe. No one in this enthralling novel is—though for most of them, the danger comes not from a predator but from their own desires and discontents. With several interlocking narratives, the story toggles between New York City in the 1990s and the stunted lives of working-class characters in upstate New York years earlier. Among those is Paul—the son of a single mother who goes out clubbing and leaves him home alone on his tenth birthday—whose connection to Leonora slowly emerges. Sweet Relief is that rare book: a page-turner in which the plot is secondary to the brilliant, visceral portrayal of its characters. We don't empathize with them—we slip into their skins, experiencing their frustrations as if they were our own. Braunstein plays with our assumptions about how characters turn out, until we realize that, just as in life, no one can control much of anything. Nor can any of us ever stop trying.
— Karen Holt